Ernest Johnson (61), is set to die today after he killed three workers at a convenience store in Columbia, Missouri with a hammer back in 1994. Pope Francis has refused to grant mercy on the governor of Missouri.
Missouri’s Supreme Court has rejected these arguments Johnson cannot be eligible for the death penalty due to his intellectual disability. Johnson’s attorney, Jeremy Weis stated that Johnson, who was born with fetal Alcohol Syndrome and lost a significant portion of his brain in 2008 due to a tumour, has had his IQ tested.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that execution of someone with intellectual disabilities is a violation to the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. States are allowed to define what “intellectual disabilities” is, but there are some limitations. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that there are basic tests and not a requirement for IQ.
Johnson was sentenced to death in 2002 by the Supreme Court of Missouri. However, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Johnson was mentally competent and he was not capable of execution. The sentence was then reinstated after a second sentencing hearing.
Vatican NewsReports Friday said that Pope Francis’ personal representative appealed for mercy to Missouri governor. Michael Parson (R), sent a letter to Pope Francis requesting clemency. Johnson’s crimes were not excused in the letter, it was merely pointed out Johnson’s doubtful intellectual ability.
“His holyness wishes to place before your the simple truth of Mr. Johnson’s humanity, and the sacredness in all human lives,” stated Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Pierre added that rejecting the death sentence would be an “courageous acknowledgment of the inalienable right of every human life”.
Parson was not willing to move, so his office announced Monday that they would proceed with execution.
Johnson would become the seventh American executioner in 2021 if he is executed today. These executions were all federal prisoner executions that took place during President Donald Trump’s final days. Texas also witnessed the executions of the three remaining prisoners.
Johnson’s is Missouri’s only scheduled execution this year. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, only three other states—Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama—have any executions scheduled for the remainder of the year.
If all these executions are carried out in 2021 (including Johnson’s), America will execute fifteen people this year. This would mean that there will be only two executions compared to 2020. In 2020, more than half the nation’s executions were performed by federal prisons. In the United States, the use of death penalty is declining. This has been happening for many years. Virginia, once the leading state for execution of prisoners, has stopped using the death penalty. It was the 23rd such state.
This trend and Missouri’s harsh legal system are leaving Johnson behind. Parson’s refusal to pardon someone guilty is not unexpected. But it’s an unreversible application by the government of its authority and should be avoided when not needed. The death penalty has not made us more fair as a nation.